What If, 30 x 30 Oil on Canvas, 2016

What If…You Tried Painting Like This?

I have found that asking “What if…” can be a source of education and a good starting point when abstracting a painting. For instance, when I tried painting: “What if I make only crosshatching strokes” (such as in the image below), overlapping and colour ended up being the focus. By asking “What if…” you essentially allow the painting to paint itself.

Crossings, 24 x 30, Oil on Canvas
Crossings, 24 x 30, Oil on Canvas, 2015

Intuitive painting, and especially abstraction, may even lead to breakthroughs in our work. This way of engaging and responding may help an artist understand more about his or her own process. Further, working on creativity is also known to be good for our brains.

Of course, painting scenarios of “What if…” could become a big mess. But at the same time an interesting painting could result, allowing for fascinating conversations and further investigations …and perhaps into questions allow a glimpse into the artist’s state of mind. But putting that aside, the validity of exploration, utilizing intuitive painting methods , cannot be underestimated.

So, I decided to take on the “What if Challenge” and prepared to work with oil paints. First I sat with the 30 x 30 canvas and asked myself (and the canvas) “What if I…”, and then responded accordingly.

Over several days of working on this piece I asked the following questions of it.

-What if I place something in the center, and what if the center is like a window or a frame that should be around the painting but now is inside of it.

-What if I use Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber instead of black. Both shades ended up looking equally dark. What if I use only lines, straight and cured in varying widths, but leave some raw canvas between.

-What if I utilize the bristles of an old broom across the bottom, apply blue pigment with a spoon, fork and serrated knife just because I was starting to feel that this painting could be delicious (I also happened to be painting in the kitchen and was getting hungry).

-What if I squeegee over some parts  to blur lines slightly and then add incomplete grids as well as semi-transparent circles, so not to close in the piece altogether.

-What if I leave the background mostly white but utilize subtle tones of warm and cools, while establishing an overall warm feeling.

-What if I glaze some iridescent pigments over areas. This was when I discovered a small amount over the darks softened them slightly.

-And lastly, what if I put a red blob close to the edge as a gesture of finalization in the same way a period ends a sentence.

After this exhausting attempt at “art” I checked the composition in reverse using a mirror and a phone app called Value Viewer. The values, notan and proportions of this abstract were acceptable to me. The painting itself seemed to ask a question – I liked that.

Lastly this “What If” painting passed the “What if I don’t like it in my living room” test by walking by it for a few days and not having to change it. I signed the bottom and posted it on my abstract website applebyart.com (which is safely away from my usual work on janeappleby.com).

Now I am on to another painting adventure, thinking “what if” I colour a familiar object with neon colours. In any case, I can’t help but wonder…What if you tried painting like this…saying “what if”?

Note: This article was part of the feature “The Reality of Abstract Painting” in the Federation of Canadian Artist’s Magazine, Art Avenue – Sept/Oct. 2016 Issue (page 12-13).


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